Monday, January 2, 2012

The Amazing Saga of Norman Torquemada, Part 1

Norman Geisler has presented what he calls an "outpouring" of support for himself in response to Geisler's Christmas Carol. I can only say that if that is what he calls an "outpouring," what he is pouring is dishwater and what he is pouring from is a thimble. The contributors are wholly anonymous -- supposedly, we are told, to "avoid annoyance" -- and there are hardly a half dozen "testimonies" presented. In contrast, I can immediately produce 4 times as many contrary testimonies from persons on my own YouTube channel, TheologyWeb members and correspondents who, even if operating behind usernames, aren't so fearful of "annoyance" that they won't say their piece in a way for which they can be held accountable. One can only suppose that if Geisler's aides ever made it on to YouTube with a host of fundy atheists, they'd drop dead of fright. If they were ever transported into serious persecution in a place like Saudi Arabia, they'd probably explode.

Even so, shere's not much to say of this thimble-poured collection of self-pity. Typical of the authoritarian mindset, we are granted little more than summary judgments of the video (e.g., "abusive," "in poor taste," "ridiculous," "personal attacks," etc.) without any serious analysis, which we are no doubt expected to simply accept as law, and as a result, immediately repent -- BYO sackcloth and ashes. One person even says that the video "grieves" them. I can only hope, that there are available near this person, grief counseling services specifically designed for those whose mental peace has been disturbed by YouTube cartoons.

One testimony even contains a poorly obscured attempt to correct the error of the video having been attributed to Nick Peters:

“As a graduate of the seminary, and fellow brother in Christ, I want to inform you of slanderous video by current SES student [name] on the internet against SES co-founder Dr, Geisler…. I am actually ashamed, saddened and embarrassed by this type of activity on [name] part. I know that I and numerous people have personally confronted [name] about such behavior and he refuses to listen.” ---Southern Evangelical Seminary [SES] graduate

Actually, Nick has not been "personally confronted" by anyone about the video, but as is often the case when Geisler is in da house, getting the facts right doesn't matter as long as the Self-Righteous Crusade Bus has enough fumes to keep trucking down Highway Holier Than Thou.

Even more amusing is this from a "Layperson":

I am very disturbed by this personal attack on you! I will not stoop to watch it. I’m grateful that you are a staunch defender of the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture. I thank God that you continue to be a gatekeeper of our orthodox Christian faith…. I pray that Dr. Licona has a change of heart.

Um...he won't watch it, yet he's sure it is a personal attack? Perhaps we need to compose something new for the Sunday hymnal:

Holding hates Norm, this we know
For the Geisler tells us so!

I've said elsewhere that prior to this whole incident, I never knew a great deal about Geisler beyond that he was considered a major name. I never read more than 1-2 of his books, which I immediately discerned were barely more useful than those of Josh McDowell, and so I had little understanding of why and how he got to be so revered as to earn Kool-Aid disciples of this sort.

Now, this much later, I have even less understanding of how Geisler has attained the social and professional recognition that he has over the years. But that's something I might have to check into at some later date; for now, Geisler’s latest book has confirmed my earlier assessment. Just released officially this week, Geisler's co-authored volume (with William Roach), Defending Inerrancy, is one which I have speculated may have inspired Geisler to address Licona in the first place as a sort of publicity stunt. Licona makes it into the book in a single sentence and two endnotes (one them citing Licona in support of a point against someone Geisler disagrees with; the other, a note to the main text, concerning the Matt 27 issue). The question of whether indeed the attack on Licona was a promotional stunt might be said to be supported by the fact that most every major point used against Licona by Geisler in his Internet postings (concerning the 300 "scholars" of ICBI, the relevance of certain specific articles of ICBI and its supporting documents, etc) appears in DI -- often more than once. On the other hand, this repetition might simply reflect Geisler's Custer-like devotion to the same straight-ahead charge tactic -- no matter how many brick walls it compels him to run into, or no matter how much it makes him manifest the traits of a cymbal-crashing simian.

Most of DI is quite irrelevant to our concerns here, consisting of historical survey and analyses of what amount to easy targets. (How hard is it to beat up on someone as befuddled as Brian McLaren, after all? More difficult, I’d say, to deflate the Hindenburg with a howitzer.) Of interest is Packer's comment in the foreword: "...any who suspect biblical statements of inaccuracy should dig further into the conventions of culture and communication that operated when the statements were made, for it is here that the solution of their problems will be found." We are once again reminded though that according to Geisler, we are only allowed to dig so deep, and that certain "conventions of culture and communication" he finds offensive are supposed to remain politely buried.

Among the historical survey material is limited background on ICBI -- quite limited. One would like to know how members of ICBI were selected and called, in what way they participated in the process, and what qualifications they were required to have. All we are told, however, is of a small group assembled (including Geisler) for prayer and discussion, which made plans for the summit in Chicago in 1978. For all we know from this, ICBI members were chosen by means of hurled chicken bones. (Rather amusing is a profession that a new generation has arisen that doesn't know Archer, Boice, Nicole, etc. and others who have passed on, who were ICBI stalwarts. I did know them -- and that is precisely why I remain unimpressed with Geisler's efforts to use them as a club.)

At a later date we will be evaluating two of Geisler's critique chapters in detail -- those where he takes on Bart Ehrman, and Darrell Bock and William Webb. These barely pass the level of McDowell apologetics -- indeed, using source material (such as Nelson Glueck and William Albright) that McDowell himself used at times -- and at other times containing arguments of such appalling naivete and such squirrelly scholarship that a better job might have been done by Bob Jones after a riff of wild parsley. We'll also review some material on Robert Gundry and report anything new, and examine some particularly condescending closing remarks made by Geisler as advice to scholars whom he feels aren’t sufficiently abandoning a commitment to taking the evidence where it leads them, to remain suitably orthodox.

But that will be sometime next week. Now, let's talk about something a little more technical, directly related to the current debate.

Richard Howe makes the following point:

"…one has the prerogative to hold whatever view of inerrancy one chooses. I regret that some so hurriedly dismiss the work of ICBI (International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. . . . I am directing this criticism to those who sound the refrain “Why should ICBI be the standard of orthodoxy?” The argument is not whether ICBI is the standard of orthodoxy but whether ICBI is the standard for the doctrine of inerrancy. . . . I am suggesting that such matters require (and deserve) a very careful, thoughtful, and thorough treatment. A one-liner that emotionally appeals to the theological individualism characteristic of many (Protestant) Evangelicals is not enough."

Now of course, I am not one of those who has sounded the refrain to which Howe refers. I have seriously questioned the authority and expertise of the ICBI's participants, as well as Geisler's handy designation of all of them as "scholars." I have also questioned how many are are indeed scholars (and are still alive!), and questioned just how many would be qualified to assess Licona's thesis. Even so, I do believe ICBI produced a satisfactory text in the Chicago Statement -- even if Geisler claims that it was intended to exclude precisely the sort of thing Licona, and earlier Gundry, did. I can accept that as an explanation to the extent that it has become clear that Geisler was exceptionally clueless about what Gundry was doing in 1983, and is exceptionally clueless now about what Licona is doing in 2011! What he misunderstands them as doing would be excluded by ICBI; what they were/are actually doing, is not.

Howe, however, has given lie to an even bigger problem. The authority to decide "Evangelical orthodoxy" as a whole is not at issue, the authority to decide some part of "Evangelical theology" remains a burning issue. Because Geisler (the instigator of this debate) is subsuming this non-essential interpretive issue under the category of inerrancy doctrine (which he considers an "epistemological essential" according to an article in the Christian Research Journal), it may end up being only a difference of degree. However, the debate has exposed a much larger issue than Licona's interpretative decisions - it raises the question of what counts as acceptable evangelical theology, and moreover, who decides what is acceptable.

I've never been one to claim or disclaim labels. Over the years I have been mistaken for being a Catholic, or a member of the Orthodox Church; I have spoken at churches that are Southern Baptist, Assembly of God, United Brethren, and charismatic. I have disclaimed one label -- that of "fundamentalist" -- for what it now represents in terms of apologetics: A closed-minded, narrow, and badly informed mindset, especially with respect to Biblical exegesis; and that of course is a term I apply as well to atheists.

"Evangelical" is a term I don't disclaim, but I don't give it to myself either. Part of the reason for this is that I'm not clear on what its parameters are. As broad as it seems to be, I'm probably included by most reckonings, but then again, so are people I've ripped now and then, like Brian McLaren (emergent) or John Sanders (open theist) or even James White (Calvinist).

Is there any objective standard for what constitutes an "Evangelical"? I have to be honest and say I don't know and don't care enough to find out. Fundamentalism had the questionable virtue of having a set list (the "fundamentals") of things you had to believe before you peeled the backing from the sticker and put it on your forehead. It doesn't look to me like there's any such list for "Evangelical" -- and so we do have multiple, competing standards that "Evangelicals" disagree on.

That can be a healthy thing at times, and you need only look at Bob Jones University -- and apostates who once went to places like it -- to see why. On the other hand, the Evangelical arrangement can make it difficult at times to state with any confidence whose opinion matters, or who is even in the movement in the first place. Problems can then arise when one designated "Evangelical" group elevates its interpretation to the level of a functional standard for all Evangelical doctrine. Those opposing the sub-group's standard become, for that group at least, deviant at best and perhaps even "heretical" at worst with regard to their own standard. And of course, if the evaluation tends towards "heretical," we can expect a reaction -- whether indeed the evaluation is right or wrong.

I try to stay aloof from such disputes, and stick to what is true and what is not; and this has served me well. However, it also means that I’ve been particularly disgusted by what’s been going on from Norman Geisler. Why have I designated him the new Torquemada? We’ll start to discuss that in Part 2.

Richard Howe's article

Geisler's CRJ artricle

1 comment:

  1. "Holding hates Norm, this we know
    For the Geisler tells us so!"

    Now that had me chuckling! hehe